After years of pressure from the Virginia Congressional delegation, the National Park Service has approved $227 million for repairs to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the 85-year-old structure that connects Virginia and D.C.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of this progress on a key transportation project for this region,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said. “It required the combined efforts of all of us from the national capital region – those of us serving in both houses of Congress, as well as the District government, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Transportation Department. These partnerships allowed the Park Service to design an innovative project that will save money and time for the region’s commuters and visitors.”
The Virginia and D.C. delegations, with support of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, played a decisive role in successfully advocating for a federal FASTLANE project grant, as well as secured additional appropriations to launch the Memorial Bridge rehabilitation project in January.
Work starts next year
Construction will begin in the fall of 2018, with the project being completed in 2021, giving the bridge a lifespan of an additional 85 to 100 years. During construction, at least three lanes of traffic will remain open at all times to allow for continued use of the span. Identifying the remaining required funds allows the NPS to save $35 million in costs by completing the project in one phase rather than two, and will allow the project to be finished 18 months sooner than previously estimated.
“Arlington Memorial Bridge is among the nation’s most deteriorated bridges, and I’m extremely proud that after years of hard work, the National Park Service has committed full funding for rehabilitation of the bridge. This is a huge win for Northern Virginia commuters, as well as visitors to the nation’s capital,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “As we celebrate this good news, we should also redouble our efforts to pass a major infrastructure bill so other aging bridges don’t degrade to such a terrible condition in the first place.”
The Memorial Bridge, which carries 68,000 vehicles daily between Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Va., was originally opened in 1932 with a 75-year design life. It is now structurally deficient, having never undergone a major rehabilitation. As a result a 10-ton load limit remains in effect, and large vehicles, including trucks and buses, are prohibited from crossing. Without a major overhaul, it has been expected that the Bridge would have to be closed to vehicular traffic beginning in 2021. However, NPS has an annual budget of just $20 million for transportation projects across all its assets in the National Capital Region.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has previously estimated that closing the Memorial Bridge could cost local governments $75 million per year in transportation outlays alone. Moreover, transit studies suggest that traffic from the bridge would spill over onto other area bridges, particularly the 14th Street Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge, further exacerbating congested roadways in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Last year, the region’s congressional delegation was instrumental in securing $90 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Phase 1 of the reconstruction of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, with NPS providing an additional $60 million in matching funds. At the time, NPS estimated that more than $100 million in additional funding would be needed in order to bring the Memorial Bridge into a state of good repair.
Due to years of chronic underfunding, NPS has been forced to defer billions of dollars in necessary maintenance on transportation infrastructure such as Memorial Bridge, as well as other facilities it operates, like visitor centers, rest stops, trails and campgrounds. In March, Sen. Warner and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announced legislation, the National Park Service Legacy Act, to address the maintenance backlog at the National Park Service, which is currently more than $11 billion, and Sen. Kaine is one of a dozen bipartisan co-sponsors who have signed on to support the effort.